Feckin’ Technology

Do forgive me, dear reader, for I have been away. Now by this I most certainly don’t mean that the men in the white coats have finally caught me. What I do mean is that the miracle that is modern technology (or “modren” as the kids up here pronounce it) has temporarily wafted off into its own personal ether and left me bereft. We made the mistake of deciding to change from one provider who shall remain nameless… (oh what the hell -from Virginmedia)… to Sky. The Sky people duly came and fitted our satellite dish and we have been enjoying hopping through an even bigger array of channels – each with a niche market of probably only about 3 viewers – in the hope that somewhere there might be one that we might actually want to watch. But the real crunch came with the switch in broadband internet provision. This involved two men from BT clattering about in our roof space looking for a cable (something that happened, I might add, because I’m only a girl-type person and the wire I was pointing at – the one coming out of the wall and going into the back of the computer – just simply couldn’t have been the one that connected the internet outside world to our desktop system.) Three hours and several new swear words later we got this sorted and, as an additional benefit, they found the patio chair cushions I thought I’d lost. Given the amount of time they took, I think I might be right in surmising that the hunts for Lord Lucan and Shergar may now be called off, but at least they put every last bit of our out-of-sight-out-of-mind clutter back in its rightful place. But, and here’s the really annoying part, apparently we’re weird because we wanted to prioritise the internet rather than the telly. But oh no – we have to wait 10 days to get connected to the Sky system. Customer rights? My arse! So in order to stay connected, I have bought a dongle – a Vodafone mobile broadband device to be specific. But, the powers that be at Voodoofone have been mighty sly – there is an automatic Content Control on the device. Now I don’t believe Voodoofone has suddenly decided it has a role as a custodian of the nation’s morals. Call me cynical but it does rather seem to me that they realise that people get these things to connect while on holiday etc to things like Facebook and other social networking sites. Which are blocked by the Content Controller. Which costs a quid to get lifted. Hmmm. Anyway, I am now speaking to you from a Content Control- free dongle – which presumably means I am having unprotected text here. Catch ya later for more updates.

Bikes, Bonsai and Bloody Awful Weather

I’ve been a bit remiss over the past few weeks – either that or I’ve had a major senior moment and forgotten to post. Actually it’s been a hectic fortnight and I just haven’t had much chance to sit own and ramble away on here. So, let’s make up for that now.

The highlight of the past couple of weeks has been the Joy of Bonsai event held in The Pavilion in Bath over the weekend of March 20th and 21st. It was organised by one of British bonsai’s superstars – the Blessed Dan Barton – through the offices of ABBA. Now, at this point several of you will be wondering what a 70s Swedish pop band have to do with bonsai. Others will already be half way into the chorus of Waterloo, and anyone under about 25 will be wondering what the hell I’m going on about. (go Google) This particular ABBA is in fact the Association of British Bonsai Artists – a fact I drop in merely to end the confusion. Anyway, the event was interesting – oh there’s that word that means anything and everything. I have not been to a JofB before so didn’t know what to expect. As it transpired it was a bonsai “gathering” rather than a straight exhibition and this was okay. I have heard grumblings about it being too much of a “trade show” – funnily enough from people who seemed to be leaving laden down with purchases! The highlight of the event however had to be the Bonsai Innovations section, featuring some very interesting and unusual exhibits, some of which I adored as art and bonsai, and some of which I adored as art. Particuarly spectacular for me was John Pitt’s exhibit pictured here:

A number of people will only know John as a bonsai potter, and one of the great things about this show was that it gave him the chance to let people see just how great a bonsai artist he is too.

But if you want WOW factor how about this?

A stunning tree I hear you say, and indeed so it would be considered by most people with any taste and discernment. That is, if tree it indeed was. But it isn’t. Before I get accused of talking in taradiddles, let me explain. The “tree” is fake. Totally. Completely. Except the pot and the moss on the surface. It is made of modelling clay (trunk) and plastic (foliage). Gobsmacking! It took the artist, Paul Finch, about a year to make I believe. I can see why.

Back tomorrow to complete this.

Lochwinnoch Lesbians and Amorous Amphibians

Well, here’s a little thing: I have been perusing the stats for the past week and am totally appalled to note that the main hits on the site came through people searching for… no, not nice wee birdies or record shattering exploits on a road bike. Not even for artistic and meritorious bonsai, but for BABES! Apparently the title I used on a post some months ago of Braveheart Babes means that this is the main page hit on (and how appropriate might that expression be!). The more boring and unimaginative of the perverts searching for things way out of their league just typed in “babes”. But the search data also yielded that someone had sought (but most certainly NOT found, at least not here) Lochwinnoch Lesbians!!! I ask you! So, you perverts out there, eff off and go flash the contents of your mac at someone else’s blog. God knows there’s enough of ’em out there (porn blogs that is, not pervs, although there’s no doubt legion of those too!). You are compromising the artistic nature of this site. May your next crap be a porcupine!

And so to my genteel, douce and dacent offerings: birdie-wise, nothing really to report this week. The bullfinch has been conspicuous only by its absence and while I’ve seen the smew at Lochwinnoch regularly, I don’t take the camera down when I’m working so haven’t had a chance to take its piccie. Might remedy that tomorrow, although the plan is to commute by bike now that we have some semblance of decent weather forecast, so I don’t know how much I can squeeze into one back-pack and still stay balanced on the bike. Fauna in the garden includes the fox (evident by the little presents it leaves behind combined with a pervading odour of fox pee) and the frogs in the pond. Sadly the harsh winter has taken its toll and we had to remove a couple of dead ones today. However, while I was doing some pond clearing, I noticed at least two others swimming or hopping about. It’ll soon be that time when the night air ir redolent with the sound not of shadenfreude but shaggenfrogs. What a racket they make! Last year there was a positive orgy going on out there every night. Oh shit!!! I’ve just given the pervs another search cue there. Next week’s stats’ll show a frenzy of hits on “orgy”.

Did some routine bonsai tidying up today. Later in the week I’ll be dismantling and cleaning the benches (excitement abounds!) and if the weather does as predicted, I can start thinking about some repotting.

But, keeping the best ’til last: as promised last time, I can now formally announce that I clocked up my first 1000 miles of 2010 on the bicycle. And I did it on a real road with traffic, hazards and hills an’ all! It’s a pity so much of the 1K has had to be done on the trainer but who’d have predicted almost 12 weeks of snow, ice and snow and ice? I am under no illusions about the capacity of the trainer to recreate “real road” conditions, but it had been a good enough way of getting a fitness level up. My breathing has improved as has my pedalling ability and cadence. Speeds are, I will happily admit, totally misleading, but I have noticed that my average speed of late on the road has been higher than when I first started. I also admit to being still fairly wary of the cleats on the road. The main reason is that I am not really used to road riding and the cleats just add another thing to worry about. Added to that is the fact that my riding currently is all solo stuff and I am very aware that it is me against the various hazards. I would probably feel a lot better about the cleats if I had the security of riding with others in a group (if that makes any sense to you) and that thought has made me doubly determined to get across to Walkers and join the group rides. Not sure about the Johnstone Wheelers. It’s local and it makes more sense to go there rather than make a 20 minute car journey, but Walkers seem a lot friendlier plus there are other women riders. We’ll see. Mebbe there’s scope for both. In the meantime I will be trying to get out on to the road as often as possible to build up confidence and traffic savvy. I hope the next 1000miles shows a significant swing towards outdoor miles rather than trainer miles. Only the weather deities can control that one! Saddle up!

1000 miles! And on the right (as in correct) side of the road!

Mostly trees, with some avian and velocipedic activity

Probably just to spite us as the beginning of March approached, the weather deities dumped another large quantity of snow on us this past week. It started at 9.15am on Wednesday and finally stopped precipitating at about 12noon on Thursday. Those few volunteers who made it through to Lochwinnoch were sent away at 2pm in case we got snowed into the car park with nothing to snack on but sunflower seeds (if there’d been choccie coated ones I’d have risked it!) It put paid to my planned 40miler outdoors on the bike on Thursday but I did in fact achieve it on the trainer. Not much avian activity – or at least not that you could photograph. Here’s what I mean:

snoffinches?

The birds were all puffed up against the cold snow and blow and looked like mad punk rockers:

I think I spotted a brambling in the garden early on Friday but the camera was all packed ready for Willowbog so was unable to snap it.

And so off to Willowbog on Friday morning for the BSA exhibition. The snow had cleared by the time I got over the Kingston Bridge only to return later that night once I got to Willowbog. Now I am not taking any blame for that, but it did mean of course that there was a danger of people opting not to come owing to the weather. This turned out to be less of a problem than expected and although it was down on last year, attendance remained good. The show itself was of high quality which made it even more amazing that I was awarded a Certificate of Merit for my white pine. My rack display was better this year than in the past but still lacks two top quality trees to compete with the big boys.

Rack Display

White Pine

Side events at the show included a pot making workshop with David Jones of Walsall Cermaics – an activity I’ve undertaken before but which I entered partly for fun but aso becuase I fancied making the replacement pot for the white pine as its current one is chipped. Anything with David Jones is a laugh and this was no exception.

Don't even think about saying I can use it for making sandcastles

But by far the most bizarre occurrence of the weekend was the styling competition which I entered against my better judgment as Peter and Marco weren’t getting as much support as they’d have liked. Now as you all know I am a shy shrinking violet (where doing bonsai is concerned anyway) and it put me well out of my comfort zone to be styling a tree with seriously good bonsai people wandering around me and watching. I didn’t even go in to the judging session because I thought the tree was such a pile of the brown stuff. When they shouted on me to say I’d won, I really thought they were at the wind-up. And when I realised they were serious, I did that wonderfully adult and mature thing – I burst into tears and ran away. Hey! It’s been a tough year so far and my confidence has taken not so much a knock as a serious pounding over the job situation and the ongoing shenanigans with back pay. I’m only wee after all! But – mebbe I amn’t (don’t do that eye-rolling thing, that is way more grammatically accurate that “I aren’t”) that crap at bonsai after all. better not be – two trees from Willowbog are now spat on!

the shy one

Enough for the nonnes, other than to say that the Willowbog snow put paid to my achieving my 1000 bike miles so I could have saved space in the van by leaving the black beauty at home. See you next week and by then the 1K will have been bagged – one way or another.

Trees, trees and, oh, some bikes and birdies as well.

A good week for the most part this week. My first Monday slot at Lochwinnoch went extremely well – I did some outside tasks and also spent time being nice to the public. It’s amazing just how much you can learn about a topic in a relatively short space of time if you just listen in to an expert talking. On this occasion it was about ospreys, and it was so interesting I might just volunteer to spend a week up on the Boat of Garten reserve which is probably the osprey site in Scotland. We’ll see. The other birdie highlight this week is the return of a wren to the garden. Everyone say “ahhhhhhhh!”

A welcome returnee

Bicycle-wise I reached 830 miles this week and am on course for hitting my first thousand by the end of February. Tthis of course might be stymied if I dont get decent weather when I’m at Willowbog next weekend as I don’t think I could set up the Tacx in Peter and Jean’s kitchen. In anticipation of a heat wave I have planned out my routes: there’s the 17 mile one I did there in November but by going on a bigger loop I can double that. I’d like to do at least 50miles over the weekend but it’ll depend on the amount of ice of the roads, so maybe I’ll need to settle for sets of shorter loops. Additionally, I had somewhat of a pedal epiphany on Friday night as a snippet of conversation had several months ago with my Cycle Sensei came back to me and I spent a couple of hours googling scraping mud off one’s shoe. Don’t worry, it’s not some new compulsive obsessive disorder manifestation – merely a pedalling technique. And so far it has worked – my speed and cadence have increased and my knee is no longer sore after a ride. It works indoors anyway – still a major acid test obviously.

But by far the biggest excitement was a veritable orgy of bonsai activity this week. I had Senseless Sensei Steve here on Thursday and got through a remarkable bit of work despite the near permafrost in the bonsai pots. We worked on my Joy of Bonsai buxus, my Shohin Juniper which may be ready for the show next weekend, and The Beefie juniper (tell you about that another time.) We also did some development planning on my other trees and I have dutifully written it all down for future reference. It was a very good day, and I managed to follow it up with a visit to Wattston on Saturday to meet up again with Steve and the other guys and gals at the workshop. And of course I got the chance to see Dougie’s new imports from Japan. And equally of course I came away empty-handed! Pause to extinguish flames from underwear. Sunday saw a workshop hosted by the Ayrshire group with Corin Tomlinson as workshop leader. I have never met Corin or experienced his way of working, and I have to say I was favourably impressed. He took the time to explain fully what he was doing in his demos and his manner and approach during the hands-on workshop was excellent. In fact my only criticism is that the day was way too short. I took the opportunity to work on a semi-cascade white pine which is a long-term project tree and is really just for fun. It’ll never make a serious bonsai (not for about 25 years that is) but it’s a good learning experience.

Steve working on the Joy of Bonsai Buxus

Buddy offers vital tools and equipment to help restyle The Beefie

Working with Corin on my white pine

So, as already stated, all in all a good week, marred slightly by the latest development in my ongoing battle with former employers. Nuff said – it’s probably sub judice or something as ridiculous as the saga itself. Onwards and upwards for what should be another good week – hitting the 1K bike miles and the BSA show at the weekend. Bring it on!

More em… bicycles, birds etc.

An interesting week in many respects. The weather has picked up slightly inasmuch as it is sunny and cold and icy rather than grey and cold and icy. Inspired by the possible imminence of Spring I found myself down at Lochwinnoch on Monday signing up to be an official RSPB volunteer (no hang on, I’m going to give that a capital letter as it is a job title of sorts) an official RSPB Volunteer. Got my induction from my new friend Allan with whom I shall sook in big time as he knows and has worked with Simon King. Did my first stint on Wednesday and ended up nannying two 15-year old Johnstone High pupils who were thre as part of their Curriculum for Excrement oops sorry, Excellence. One of them didn’t like getting cold (for which read he didn’t like temperatures below that of a conventional oven) or dirty, bless him. The other was quite good right up to the point when I asked what other options he could have chosen and why he’d elected to come here. He responded that it was either here or the Erskine Hopsital (for war veterans and invalids) and he hadn’t fancied sitting around listening to all those old people going on about the 60s. I’ll give you old people, sonny James! Anyway we painted a fence – that is if “painting” is the correct term for ladling as much paint as you can on to your brush and then throwing it at the fence. There can’t be too many fences round RSPB property (or anywhere else for that matter) whose paintwork owes more to Jackson Pollock than to that irritating DIY gobshite off the Ronseal adverts! It was fun and certainly beat sitting in the house thinking up novel ways to avoid doing the ironing! Back on Monday for another stint.

Bonsai activity was restricted mostly to general tidy up. The trees have responded well to being in the greenhouse over the winter and my azalea which I cut back drastically with the assistance of Kev Bailey, has never stopped popping out new growth. it did slow down noticeably but it is already resuming business as normal. That means few if any flowers this year but also means I will be able to do the rest of the hard prune-back come the early summer.

And of course the bicycle. I don’t think I said last week that my targets for January were met. Imagine that: me missing an opporchancity to boast about 450 miles in three weeks. I am now cracking ahead with the February ones and am on course for achieving my first 1000 miles by the end of the month. 700 reached today (Saturday). I actually got the bike out the kitchen on Thursday despite it being bitterly cold when you were out of the direct sun, but I got the chance to try the speed track at Bellahouston Park and have a run round the rest of the grounds, including the 1km top circuit and its hills, which range from a grade 3 to the steepest at Grade 8. Made it twice but had to cop out on the third attempt as I thought I was going to throw up my lunchtime coffee. That stretch is only about 50m long too! What a wuss! As luck would have it, Friday was the perfect cycling day for the time of year but I was unavailable – a fact I am not going to moan about given that I was attending the funeral of Lorraine Ferri, my friend Aldo’s wife, who died after a long and frequently extremely painful battle with cancer. Such things rather do put one’s little trifling matters into perspective and when I consider what she (and Aldo) must have borne with colossal courage, strength of character and most of all humour, I feel enormously guilty at even thinking, as I do on occasion, that my life is shit when quite clearly it is not. Today of course was cold and icy when I got up, and remained so right through to mid-day. Decided to do my target 33 miles indoors, which I did despite the cadence reader packing in part-way through. And the sod’s law doubly whammy kicked in when two miles from the end, the sun came out to the point where a ride outdoors was do-able. Bugger! Had gone for a speed run so was knackered! Looks better again for tomorrow and Monday so here’s hoping as I want to try out my new route. Got a mere 12 weeks to get up to the standard of the Etape Caledonia – 80 miles at average speed 14 on moderately challenging ground. I could possibly do 20-30 miles comfortably, but desperately need to get back on to the real road regularly to get “match fit” for that one. My new route takes me over from the Maryhill locks (furrin readers, I do mean locks as opposed to lochs!) over to the Falkirk Wheel (don’t Google that until I can give you pictures) and back again.

Bird visitors to the garden this week include my elusive tits which made a welcome return for the first time this year. Before we go down a Frankie Howerd route here, please note I am talking about Aegithalos caudatus – the Long Tailed Tit – of which there are plenty at Lochwinnoch but are infrequent here in the garden. So there. I can now, just as I was able to with the Nyger seed feeder, add a justification for my fat balls.

And in case you are still sniggering like an eejit, here is what I mean:

Long Tail Tit on the fat balls

Bicycles, Birds and (Missing) Banter.

This post should have been solely under the category of Wee Trees but sadly earlier in the week my fellow travellers opted out of a trip to Bonsai Chat at Willowbog and with both of my vehicles currently needing some attention (and not needing a 200 mile round trip), I found myself bereft of bonsai banter and blethers. Not to worry – it is a mere three weeks until the British Shohin Association show where I shall more than make up for today’s loss.

In the meantime I did some cycling and although it was dry and warm (ish!) enough to go on the road, I opted to stay indoors – partly on account of a very iffy stomach (which has additionally kept me from a pleasant evening with friend Jill and god-daughter Amy) and partly because I was desperate to try out one of the training programmes from my bran noo cycling book. This was the first of twelve sessions entitled How To Kill Yourself on a Static Training Bike (possibly exaggerating there) and was written by Arnie Baker who, I am convinced, was the man on whom The Terminator was modelled. Anyway, I did manage the programme – well sort of. I didn’t manage the full spin-up sections owing to an inability to move my legs at the speed of light as seemed to be a basic requirement. And the Isolated Leg training was a hoot because I forgot to reset the resistance which meant it took a lot of turning and strange balancing. I must have looked like a somewhat arthritic dog trying to cock its leg against a lamp-post. I managed though (to compete the programme that is – not to cock my leg against a lamp-post!) but there is certainly a lot to work on before progressing to Session 2. It certainly took my mind off my gyp stomach though.

And, as an added bonus (anorak alert here, folks!) while watchng the feeders over the course of the day, I noticed two new visitors to the garden: a Goldfinch and a Common Redpoll – both attracted, it seems, by the new Nyger seed feeder. A couple of new tourists equals a cost vindicated. Sweet! It of course gave rise to the conversation about whether or not certain birds had been to the garden before we started paying such close attention. We’ve certainly had Goldfinches in the past (but not this year) but I don’t ever recall a Common Redpoll visiting. Made up slightly for not getting to Willowbog and to Jill and Amy’s.

Goldfinch in the hawthorn ready to hit the feeders

On the Nyger seed feeder

Common redpoll on the Nyger seed feeder

Shohin Off!

Been actually doing some work on bonsai in the past couple of days as it’s been nice enough to sit in the sunshine (looking out at it, that is, from the dining room windows) but too cold and icy underfoot to try a bike outing. And with the British Shohin Association annual exhibition a mere four weeks away, it was time to start getting things tidied, tweaked, twiddled, trimmed and generally buffed up – all of those being, of course, technical terms widely used in bonsai circles! I am still a couple of quality trees short for my large rack display but have been working up a nice little Juniper to fill a gap. Today I put some wire on it to get the shape better. It still requires a bit of growing in terms of the foliage but I will keep inside in a cold room between now and the show and spray it with Foliaire Hiver which seems to have greened up my other Junipers nicely.

I still have to clean up the deadwood before the show but here it is as it was over the summer and as it looks just now:

Before styling

After styling

another after shot

Willowbog TreeWheelers

I headed off down to Willowbog Bonsai Nursery last night to participate in a workshop led by the rather splendid Marc Noelanders. I’m a bit uncertain of workshop attendance these days as I don’t generally get what I need just now in terms of teaching and learning experiences. However, Peter and Jean Snart have been good to me over the past few years and I do like to support them in their ventures. Also, there’s a very special atmosphere at Willowbog which makes me go down as often as I can. It’s very similar to that prevalent at Burrs last weekend (I’ve just realised, I forgot to post anything about the bonsai side of that. Bugger!) and is best described as camaraderie to the point of feeling like family.

Today’s workshop was more routine than Burrs and I took down my achilles heel tree – a San Jose Juniper I got from Dan Barton about four years ago and which has caused me endless grief ever since. It simply won’t do what I want it to do and I have spent an eternity wiring and rewiring it. (If God had wanted us to spend our time in this way, the lines in the Karate Kid would be “wire on, wire off” and nothing to do with wax!) Branches have died, fallen off or generally been a pain. And it just keeps growing which you’d think would be a good thing. But the new growth is like very small javelin – each one of them aimed at my fingers, eyes and any other body parts which get in the way. I’m tellin’ ya – the tree got attitude!

I did my best with the tree – extended a couple of sharis and so on – but at the end of the workshop I was so fed up with it, I traded it in against a nice shohin Korean Hornbeam. Nicer tree, easier to maintain and a helluva lot easier to carry! I came away satisfied.

Cycling-wise, I had taken the MTB so an early morning cobweb run from Willowbog Bonsai nursery was effected. Jean had suggested the route she uses for her 10K runs, so I set off down the road. I did quite well although on wetter sections I was somewhat wary after last week’s tumble. A lack of ability to read a road sign led me to taking the wrong road – instead of heading back through Stonehaugh I ended up in Wark. No matter – just makes the route 10 miles longer! Nae borra! Sort of. All in all a nice route with plenty undulations of all shapes, sizes and forms – some gentle 1%,2% and 3%, a number of 4-7% and then some challenging 8-12s. There is a long (c. 1 mile) stretch on the single track road up over Willowbog that is an 11%. A combination of too much traffic that was not interested in leaving room for cyclists, a slippery surface where leaves had fallen and a colossal amount of knackeration caused me to call it quits and get off and push for a while, which kind of put paid to any chance of a decent average speed reading. The knackeration was mostly (I believe) the result of not having had anything substantial to eat for over 24 hours – i.e. a real proper meal instead of chocolate and crisps. That’s something I’ll need to bear in mind in future. Next time I’m down, I shall make it my challenge to ride the entire route, but I think I’d probably take the Dolan instead of the MTB as it felt just a tad heavy today. The Dolan would have laughed at the bulk of the hills and would certainly have made lighter work of the grade 11 stretch. Next time!

San Jose Juniper

The OWB - first two stand for Obnoxious Wee